Critical Mass Ride Around The World - Do práce na kole

Critical Mass Ride Around The World

Critical Mass Ride Around The World
30. 5. 2022

Although bike demonstrations had been happening in various countries for years, the first Critical Mass Ride ever was organized on the last September Friday of 1992, in San Francisco. As the book Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20 by Chris Carlsson, Lisa Ruth Elliott, and Adriana Camarena states, that this “leaderless ride” became a monthly “organized coincidence”, and in the years that followed, “spread around the world.” Since then, every last Friday of each month, bikers get together in cities around the world to bike together through their cities. In many countries, this movement has been a catalyst for change in policies and the overall perception of urban cycling that continues today. Let’s see some examples.

Rome, Italy 

This year, Critical Mass Rome celebrates its 20th anniversary. They started back in May 2002, in a city that didn’t use to be very bike friendly: “With a context of almost one car per inhabitant, Critical Mass Rome reclaimed the right of the bikers to be part of the traffic and to go beyond that.” Back then, only the most experienced cyclists dared to ride in the chaos of Rome’s roads.

To encourage people, support centers were created to provide information and help and to teach about bike maintenance. These support centers (called “bike kitchens”) created biking communities and grew bigger and bigger. The first two bike kitchens were created inside two squatted social centers: the Macchia Rossa (Red Sport) and Don Quixote. The people that formed these groups used the bike as a direct way of claiming a new model of transportation in the city. They got together in the kitchens to share knowledge and creativity.

Through these masses, the drivers in Rome saw that a change was coming to the traffic in the city. As they put it: “Many drivers face the facts: it’s quicker to go to work on a bike, you avoid traffic jams, you are not responsible for pollution, you keep fit and save money. From the windows of cars threats of physical assaults and aggressive verbal insults gave way to words of solidarity and participation: “When is the next ride happening? I want to come too.”

The evolution of the Critical Mass led to Ciemmona: a three-day event around biking. Last year, on Friday, 28th of May, riders came together in San Giovanni, and on the 29th and the 30th they took off from Parco Schute. Who would not want to ride through the beautiful streets filled with historical architecture and art? The goal on Sunday, however, was to reach the sea: ride 15 miles from Rome to Ostia.

Rome is an example where the work and activism “from below” is bringing acceptance of the bikes in the urban context of everyday life.

Ciemmona. Photo: Roma Today

Helsinki, Finland

Although the Critical Mass started in San Francisco, there are records of similar bike demonstrations in Finland in the 80s. The first one took place in 1997, although it was more of a street festival, organized by Friends of the Earth. They later joined forces with The Helsinki Cyclists and created the Critical Bike Ride. It became more popular around 2010 and also got more media coverage. As the number of participants grew, the problems that Helsinki city traffic had started becoming more obvious, and police officers started to take the rides more seriously.

One of the most famous rides was one on September 13th, 2011, in which 260 cyclists rode for the first time on a freeway that goes through the Western districts of central Helsinki: “it was inspiring how many cyclists could fit on a wide road like this, compared to the space that cars require.” The reason behind choosing this route was to challenge Helsinki to think about why there are freeways in the middle of the city and what would happen if Helsinki Driveway became Helsinki Boulevard instead.

Like in the Bike to Work campaign or Prague’s Critical Mass, reasons for participation are varied: on the one hand, some ride for better infrastructure. On the other, some do it mainly for environmental reasons. Of course, many are encouraged by the fun and welcoming atmosphere that is created. Many relate to multiple reasons and that is where richness lies: “This diversity is a strong resource, creating at times vivid debates within the group, but also assuring that the rides remain open to a wide variety of cyclists.”

Not even finish weather can stop the cyclists from Helsinki.Photo: FB Kriittinen pyöräretki

Not even the freezing Finish weather can turn these cyclists down, and they even organize a snowplow: “we ride through the snow, stop to shovel when necessary, and post videos to encourage the city to maintain our lanes clean.”

Mexico City

Mexico City, like other cities around the world, followed the urbanist model of the USA: connecting the suburbs to the city center by highways. As there were never enough, more lanes were added, and tunnels were constructed, but still, traffic congestion continued and got dangerous even for health. In the name of modernity, cars became the center of how the city articulated itself.

Only a few people, especially low-income ones, used the bike as a means of transportation. When they dared to enter the traffic, they were seen not only as crazy but as inconsiderate. Some social groups demanded bicycle infrastructure, but it was not until Bicitekas was born that an actual change began to happen.

It all started when Guillermo Espinoza and Tom Dieusaert encountered each other biking at an intersection. They were surprised to find another crazy biker on the road and started meeting with their friends to confront the traffic problems. Bicitekas, whose members already used the bike daily, “took on the mission of spreading this message to decision makers, and into the broader culture of Mexico City” (Calrsson et. al., 2012) To do so, they started activities like attractive rides about architecture and even a magazine named Velo.

The most successful and famous ride was “El Paseo Nocturno”, which began with 4 or 5 participants, but little by little more people started to join. Many who participate find this the first step to riding their bike more often. Guillermo, also known as “Memo,” used to be the leader of the ride given his extensive knowledge of the city. Nowadays, however, the organization has become more horizontal and self-organized by the participants. They can interact, listen to each other while they ride, express themselves, and have a good time.

Mexican activists in 1998. Photo: Bicitekas

Bicitekas gained more credibility when it became a Civil Association in 2001. Along with the use of the Internet Forum, they started to get more media attention. Again, in 2006, the group decided to get more involved in public policy, distinguishing itself from other bike groups. Its mission is to increase the use of the bicycle in Mexico City as a sustainable, safe, and healthy means of transport.

The transition to a Civil Association marked the beginning of a new relationship with Mexico City’s government. One of the first actions together with the Lunes de Bicifuncionarios (First Monday for Bicycling Public Officers) was to invite administration workers to bike to work on the first Monday of every month. Also, by 2007 and advised by Bicitekas, the Mexican capital inaugurated its First Sunday Streets closures and cyclothon. They also collaborated with other groups, one of them being Contacto Braille in a bike ride called Paseo a Ciegas (Blind Ride). People with visual disabilities ride in tandem through the streets, providing a safe environment. Due to the success of the project, it stands as an autonomous organization. At the same time, they started to collaborate with several educational institutions.

In 2010 Casa Biciteka was inaugurated and with it, the first community bike workshop in Mexico City. A space to host events and activities for people from all walks of life to share their experiences and learn from one another.

Puerto Rico

You would think that Puerto Rico, with its inviting tropical climate, would be a pioneer in bike culture. However, it was not the case until the Critical Mass started happening and provided the spark necessary to bring awareness and changes to the island.

Thanks to the creation of bike groups in the capital San Juan, other cities followed its example, one of them being the city of Ponce. Their first Critical Mass took place in 2006, accompanied by students and professors and Matthew Roth, a cycling activist from Transportation Alternatives in New York City. Like many Critical Masses around the world, the starting point of the ride holds great significance. In the case of Ponce, the starting point is Pedro Albizu Campos Memorial Park, a park named after a politician who promoted the independence of Puerto Rico, and in this new context, the riders fought for independence from the car.

The participants in the Mass are casual urban and recreational riders, sometimes families with children, commuters, and more. The diversity in age, gender, and occupation is great and you can feel it every time you pedal.

From La Masa at Ponce, a group of activists was formed who adopted the name Energía Roja y Negra. They appear when necessary to reclaim space and promote the bicycle’s use. It is an amorphic and horizontal group where everybody takes part. They proposed ideas and strived to meet with local authorities from the very beginning. One of the main advances was made when Ponce inaugurated a new transportation system which included bicycle racks on buses, bike stands on the streets, as well as bike lanes along the river that flows through the city.

Critical Mass is described as a catalyst for other actions. An event called bici-polo started thanks to the younger generations involved. Another successful event is the Ciclo Días (Bicycle Days) in which the city closes several streets to motorized vehicles, forming a path so that people can ride their bikes, skate, or jog freely.

An unstoppable social movement

Critical Mass Rides develop differently in different cities and countries, but the fun and social aspects are a must in all of them. You can join Prague’s Critical Mass Ride on the 5th of June, co-organized by AutoMat and the UN Information Center Prague.

The critical mass will be accompanied by a family-friendly afternoon program in Kasárny Karlín. Get excited about various presentations and workshops. The event will also conclude the month-long Bike to Work campaign.

Please confirm your participation in the registration form.

We’ll appreciate knowing how many people will join so that we can inform the police in advance. Thanks!

You can also check out last year’s photo album.

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